Durga is Kali. Durga is Parvati. Durga is Shakti.
Durga is a warrior. Durga is time. Durga is a protector.
No matter which version of the myth you choose to believe, Durga is a mother, a woman, a fertile creator.
According to the Shiva Purana, Shiva had invoked Durga, in the form of Parvati, so that together they could create.
According to Devi Mahatmya, the male pantheon, when unsuccessful in checking the demoniac powers of Mahisasura, created Durga in the form of Shakti to quell the forces of evil.
And therefore I have reservations with the creation of a transgender idol of Durga at the Jay Mitra Sarbojonin (community) – a small neighbourhood off Kumortoli, the humble potters’ quarter in North Calcutta.
That the transgender community suffers a woeful predicament in this country is an acknowledged fact. Previous articles for Youth Ki Awaaz bear testimony to the fact that I personally, fiercely fight for their human rights and champion their cause – not that I need to testify. However, I cannot fully comprehend the rationale behind creating a transgender Durga.
Anybody familiar with Hindu mythology would know that the concept of the Ardhnareshwar – or the androgynous superpower – is not an alien one. It is the union of purush (the male principle) and prakriti (the female principle) that gives birth to time, that creates life. It is necessary, in the present context, to highlight the essential double-standards of a society that worships the idea of the Ardhnareshwar, but ostracizes members of the transgender community. However, in my opinion, to recreate Durga in the image of the Ardhnareshwar is problematic.
The politics of Durga being a woman and then being gifted – or, however, you choose to read the story – with weapons that belonged to male deities, who collectively lost in their several attempts to control Mahisasura, is an idea that we still need to sustain our discourse on now, because of the everyday living realities of women, not just in this nation, but the world over.
Championing the rights of one community cannot come at the cost of another. That is precisely why the first two waves of feminism had to be replaced by Third Wave Feminism because when we talk rights we cannot, in an extremely dilettante fashion, talk merely of the rights of a heterosexual, middle class, normative, white, working woman. We need to include in the polemics the rights of the Adivasis of Africa, the Dalits of India, the lesbians of Latin America and the transgender community of Columbia.
Legend in Bengal says that without adding the punya mati (pure soil) obtained from a nishiddha palli (forbidden territory) to the clay figure of Durga, the idol is not complete. The rationale behind such an act is interesting: that when a man enters a brothel for sexual gratification, he leaves his virtues behind at the threshold, thus rendering the land under the feet of the sex-worker pure. And this soil has to be begged off and collected particularly from the hands of a sex-worker. It is believed that the Goddess cannot be satisfied unless a sex-worker ‘blesses’ the idol maker by giving him some punya mati from her nishiddha territory.
There is a poignant sense of beauty in this whole act of seeing a man begging a sex-worker – the same person that he would otherwise chastise and rebuke – for some pure soil from under her impure feet in an attempt to please an imagined construct of a Goddess. That the Mother Goddess (or the idea of Durga) stands for other suffering women, in whatever little way she can, is indeed something that we need to take note of. As a woman, she is both the beloved and the betrayed; both the sinner and the saint.
And therefore Durga needs to remain a woman while we simultaneously fight for the rights of other women and queer individuals – sex workers, lesbians, bisexuals, gays, and transgenders. Because her being a woman is simultaneously liberating and a reason for hope, along with being a manifestation of the essential hypocrisy of a patriarchal society.
Ya devi sarvabhuteshu shanti rupenna samasthitaa – let us hail that devi, that woman, who exists in all beings in the form of peace, consciousness, intelligence, sleep, hunger, power, thirst, modesty, faith, beauty, kindness, delusion, and contentment. (Stotra from Devi Mahatmya).
And let us hail the Ardhnareshwar, the union of man and nature, male and female – the originator of life. Let us hail them simultaneously, but separately. And let us imbibe from these separate myths, the basic idea of respecting individuals, just the way they are.